Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Marlins File Doomed Protest Over Out of Base Path Call

The Marlins filed a protest over Umpire Cory Blaser's out of the base path call that drew the ire of Miami Manager Don Mattingly. With none out, two on (R1, R2), and fans barely in their seats in the top of the first inning of the Marlins-Padres game, Marlins batter Christian Yelich hit a ground ball to Marlins first baseman Wil Myers, who attempted to tag out Yelich as Yelich slid to his right trying to avoid Myers' tag. After 1B Umpire Cory Blaser immediately ruled Yelich out for running more than three feet away from his base path, Mattingly ran out to argue with Blaser.

Upon crew consultation, Blaser upheld his out call, prompting Don Mattingly to file a protest with Crew Chief Jeff Nelson, alleging that Blaser misapplied Rule 5.09(b)(1) regarding a runner being deemed out of the base path.

Here is why Don Mattingly's protest will be unsuccessful (or would have failed had SD won the game):

Diagram of the play: Is Yelich out of sorts?
Since the Marlins won the game (as the non-protesting team usually does), the protest was automatically dropped, but Mattingly's protest of Blaser's OBR 5.09(b)(1) rules application was invalid from the beginning since it concerned a question of judgment and not of application (Rule 8.02(a): "Any umpire's decision which involves judgment...is final"). The following section addresses why Mattingly's protest was of an ineligible judgment call, as opposed to a rules misapplication.

Rule 5.09(b)(1) states that a runner is out when, in the umpire's judgment, "He runs more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely."

Mattingly's protest concerned Blaser's ruling of when "the tag attempt [occurred]" and B1 Yelich's position at the time of said occurrence. However, the official baseball rules do not specifically delineate such a tag attempt's timing. OBR's Definition of Terms specifies that, "a tag is a touch of the base/runner with the ball/glove," so a tag attempt, logically, is an attempt to touch the runner in this fashion ("attempt" is not defined).

Because there is no specific rule that specifies when, precisely, a "tag attempt" begins (much less what a "tag attempt" actually is), there is no rule which Blaser could have misapplied. As such, Mattingly's protest could not have possibly concerned a rules application, and instead, concerned a judgment call, which, by rule, is not eligible for protest. (Unless, of course, Blaser for some reason had called the runner out for being out of the runner's lane [the lane is irrelevant for this play since interference is not in question], though field microphone audio indicates Blaser used the out-of-the-base-path umpire's shorthand of, "he's out of the base line!" confirming this as an OOB call and not an RLI one: again, no interference = no RLI.)

Perhaps Mattingly played the role of magician and used the classic guise of misdirection to distract Blaser and Nelson from his otherwise-potentially ejectable conduct, drawing their attention away through any umpire's favorite pastime: a rules discussion.

Now that we've established the inadmissibility of Mattingly's protest, we can turn our attention to Blaser's judgment call and consider whether or not his call was correct. Replays appear to indicate that at the moment F3 Myers executed a tag attempt for the first time, B1 Yelich appeared to be running in the absolute center of the runner's lane (which, again, has no bearing on this play other than to provide a physical landmark or reference point as to the three-feet specified in 5.09(b)(1), though good on Yelich for running fully within the lane, given our recent spate of RLI controversy). Yelich's furthest deviation from the established base path appears to have been somewhere in the realm of three feet, though replays are ultimately inconclusive as to whether he ran and dove over three feet out of his way.
(For more on this sort of play, see: Baez Out of Base Path, 5/23/16 [1B Umpire Dana DeMuth])

BONUS: Replays do indicate that Myers appeared to actually tag Yelich, meaning that had Blaser reversed his call to "safe," and Padres Manager Andy Green subsequently challenged the play, it likely would have been overturned to an out due to Myers' tag.
Alternate Link: Mattingly protests Blaser's out of the base path judgment call at first (SD)


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